Olive Garden has expressed interest in former O'Charley's site but no deal yet

·4 min read

Jan. 6—Developer Naren Patel wants to make it clear. He doesn't have a deal to bring an Olive Garden to the site he owns at 1520 W. Walnut Ave,, where the O'Charley's Restaurant & Bar once stood.

"I don't want to start any rumors that Olive Garden is coming to Dalton," he said. "This is something I have been working on for 18 years. I'd like to put something there. I don't like for it to be empty. But we don't have anything yet."

Correspondence between a project management company representing Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden, and city of Dalton officials shows the company is at least interested in the site.

"We are looking at the former" O'Charley's site "for a future Olive Garden," wrote Sandi LeBlanc, a representative for L.D. Reeves & Associates Inc. in South Chesterfield, Virginia.

LeBlanc declined to comment.

"Unfortunately, we don't have too much to share at the moment," said Meagan Bernstein, a spokeswoman for Olive Garden. "As we continue to grow, our real estate teams are constantly looking for sites across the country. However, we cannot confirm any specific plans until a project has received the necessary approvals."

City Administrator Andrew Parker said the property already has the needed general commercial zoning required to place a restaurant there.

In 2019, Patel and his son Anish Govan, who is CEO of the Five Star Hospitality and Development Group that is owned by the family, requested that the city rezone 1.7 acres the family owned at 108 Kinnier Court, which is in the Dickson Acres subdivision and adjacent to the O'Charley's site, to commercial from residential so they could demolish the house on the site and turn the site into a parking lot with about 80 spaces for a possible Olive Garden on the O'Charley's site.

Patel said the O'Charley's site has 80 parking spaces and Olive Garden wanted about 150 parking spaces.

The Dalton-Whitfield Planning Commission recommended against the rezoning, citing its potential impact on the subdivision. The City Council tabled the motion at a December meeting, and Patel withdrew the request before the council could vote on it at its Jan. 6, 2020, meeting.

Patel said the current plan is to use commercial property he owns on Walnut Avenue adjacent to the O'Charley's site for the additional parking and not to go into the residential neighborhood.

"This is why the city and (Whitfield) county will be requiring them (Darden) to submit a parking plan to demonstrate that the parking standards can be satisfied in this proposed manner," said Parker.

The parking plan will be reviewed by the planning and zoning staff and the building office.

LeBlanc also asked for more information on the city's plans for the West Walnut Avenue corridor to see how that might influence Darden's site selection.

Last week, the City Council imposed a 90-day moratorium on new development in the economic development area on the south side of West Walnut Avenue from I-75 to Dug Gap Road.

In December 2020 council members voted to create a tax allocation district (TAD) in that area that will provide tax incentives for developers to build or renovate property in the area.

The city plans a road that will connect Market Street to Dug Gap Road, which council members say should reduce congestion on West Walnut Avenue and increase access to the stores and restaurants on Market Street. The city also plans to convert Market Street to a "streetscape" style, including wider sidewalks, on-street parking and decorative benches and lighting, and to move electric, telephone and cable lines underground. The plan also calls for the similar streetscaping of that stretch of West Walnut Avenue.

Council members in October of last year approved a contract with Goodwyn Mills Cawood of Atlanta to design the road that will connect Market Street to Dug Gap Road.

City of Dalton Communications Director Bruce Frazier said Wednesday the city has not received a response to its request for "detailed information on their parking plans. We're still waiting for their response to determine that what they're thinking in terms of having parking across different tracts that they own will be permissible under the unified zoning plan."

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